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Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 3 July 1990

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 July.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including—

Order. Hon. Members know perfectly well that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition always have an opportunity to refer to their notes.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—including one with Chief Anyaoku, the new Secretary General of the Commonwealth. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the Chinese ambassador. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Does the Prime Minister agree that there are some terrorists whom her Government deal with? Every year at the United Nations, the British representatives vote for the seating of a Khmer Rouge representative. If the representatives do not vote for that this year, it is a bit late as the genocidal murderers march for a second time on Phnom Penh. How does she sleep at night knowing that she has helped to bring that about?

Nonsense. Who shall have the seat to represent Cambodia is very much a matter for the United Nations. We have hitherto supported the United Nations. In future, we shall reconsider our vote as to who should take that seat for Cambodia.

If the Prime Minister can find time today to give further thought to future policies, will she ask herself why it should be necessary for the Forestry Commission to own £1 billion of real estate in land and growing timber? Is not it a good candidate for privatisation?

I am well aware that my right hon. Friend has consistently taken that view, and I think that there is something in what he says, but we must consider it in more detail for future policy.

Does not the Prime Minister think that it would be only fair if the booklet about the changes being imposed on the national health service were paid for out of Tory party funds?

No. I think that when families have to spend £39 a week to maintain the national health service, they are entitled to a booklet on the national health service reforms, the people involved in it and how it works. It is extremely good value for money.

Families support the national health service. However, as for the proposals, the doctors do not support them, the nurses do not support them and, most importantly, the patients do not support them. Whenever they are put to the vote, they get turned down by huge majorities. The only organisation that supports the proposals and propaganda is the Conservative party. Let it pay for the booklet.

If the doctors do not support the proposals, it is astonishing that there are so many applications for both self-governing hospitals and practice budgets. I quite understand—[Interruption.]

I quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying—any choice, whether on the part of the professionals who run the health service or the patient, is anathema to socialism.

If the Prime Minister is so confident about opting out and the reception that it will receive, will she give me an undertaking now that when it is proposed that a hospital should opt out, but the doctors, nurses and patients are against it, the Government will not accept the proposal for opting out?

No hospital is opting out of the health service, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. He deliberately tries to give the opposite impression. Self-governing hospitals are part of the national health service; the real reason why the Labour party does not want them is that they will be extremely popular due to the better service that they will give to patients and will offer choice, which is anathema to the Labour party.

Amidst the excitement of World Cup football and Wimbledon, does the Prime Minister think that it is right to remind ourselves of the great difference between sportsmanship and gamesmanship? Does she further think it right to remind all those involved with sport, particularly people in the public eye—players, officials, commentators and correspondents—of the enormous responsibility that they have to maintain the standards of the game and to set an example, particularly to young people interested in sport?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. We all wish our team well and success tomorrow evening. We hope that it and all our spectators will act in accordance with the best standards in Britain.

In view of the Prime Minister's well-known admiration for the views of Dr. Pöhl, the president of the Bundesbank, did she note that in his speech on the exchange rate mechanism yesterday, he clearly stated that, in his opinion, the Prime Minister's seven-year-old statement that Britain should join when the time was right now meant that Britain should join soon? Is she still unable to agree with him?

I read every word of Dr. Karl Otto Pöhl's speech. I saw him for more than half an hour yesterday morning and discussed those matters with him. I should not disagree that we are bound to join the exchange rate mechanism. We have accepted that, and we shall join—as Karl Otto Pöhl said—when the time is right. I do not know quite what he meant by "soon", but I could agree or disagree with that according to what it means.

Is not it the case that in the past few years this country has given assistance to black South African students to enable them to come to this country, to education projects in the townships and to humanitarian projects in South Africa to support the rural black community? At the time of the visit of Mr. Nelson Mandela, is not it right that due credit should be paid to this country for its work in furthering reform and progress in South Africa?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have made a point of giving far more help to black South Africans in education and housing. We made it clear that we are for the end of apartheid—which is totally immoral and which must end—and that we were going to do something for black South Africans. All the kinds of assistance that my hon. Friend has enumerated were gladly given, and have already been a great help to them. That help will be of even greater assistance when they form the majority Government in South Africa.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 July.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

The Prime Minister must be aware of the grave difficulties of pushing the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill through the House, not least with her tiny band of Scottish Back Benchers who have revolted. Will she pledge not to guillotine the Bill and curtail debate on such an important measure, or will she back her totally isolated Secretary of State for Scotland at the perilously high price of ignoring her Scottish Back Benchers?

The Bill to which the hon. Gentleman refers is part of the Government's legislative programme; it came from the other place, and was given an unopposed Second Reading in the House of Commons. It is a significant reform, especially the parts that deal with the legal profession. It is important that it should receive proper consideration in Committee, and in due course become law.

Will my right hon. Friend ask her Cabinet colleagues to have a word with the president of the Bundesbank today, so that he can explain to them that the only choice is between joining the exchange rate mechanism—and moving inexorably towards a common currency and a common monetary authority—and not going in at all? He would also explain that there is no clever compromise, and that if we attempt one it will lead to greater instability in European currencies and the justified anger of our European allies.

We are pledged to join the exchange rate mechanism when the Madrid conditions are fulfilled, and we shall join it when they have been fulfilled. It is clear that some of our colleagues in the European Community wish to go further than the exchange rate mechanism. The proposals outlined in Delors stages 2 and 3 were debated in the House, and my understanding is that a move towards a single currency—with a board of bank governors not democratically accountable to anyone—was totally rejected. That being so, we wish to find a way forward with which other countries in the European Community—as well as Britain—could agree, and which would satisfy the demand for some kind of common currency throughout the Community.

We have put our proposals before the Community, and I am sure that they will be fully debated. We do not wish to adopt a single currency with a board of central bank governors who are not democratically accountable. We are prepared to have a common currency, provided that it does not lead to any inflation. That would mean our having a hard ecu.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 July.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

In view of the new Government figures on increases in high street spending and borrowing, and reports that the Treasury has revised upwards its fourth quarter inflation estimate, is not it clear that the Government's policy of relying entirely on high interest rates is not working?

No. The economy is extremely strong and very dynamic and there are more jobs, higher output and a higher standard of living than ever before. Of course it will take time for a high interest rate to work. That is not the only policy and I am surprised that that has escaped the hon. Gentleman. He knows full well that there is a budget surplus. That, too, is part of the policy.

My right hon. Friend has often said that for every right there is a corresponding duty. Will she alter the rules so that those claiming benefit should first have to produce a certificate saying that they have registered for the community charge?

That would be a needless extra bit of bureaucracy. We are very pleased that the overwhelming majority of people properly registered for the community charge in spite of Opposition forebodings to the contrary. We believe that the overwhelming majority as citizens will pay it, and we hope that a bigger percentage will pay the charge than used to pay rates.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 July.

Will the right hon. Lady give a straight answer this time? If doctors, nurses, medical staff and patients are against opting out, will she listen to them?

No hospital is opting out. All are in the health service. If the professionals wish to apply for self-governing status, the application will come to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health who, after a period of consultation, will make his decision. It is quite clear that the Opposition do not want people to have choice. They are socialists to the backbone.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 July.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past 12 months of freedom from union domination and restrictive practices, Britain's docks have moved from strength to strength? Is not this anniversary of the abolition of the dock labour scheme—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—a suitable moment to reiterate the superiority of free enterprise over socialism and trade monopoly?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is one year today since the dock labour scheme was abolished. Since then productivity has raced ahead, ships have been loaded and unloaded far faster, we have the lowest strike record in Britain, and the hinterland of all the ports is flourishing. It was a good day when we abolished that scheme and we note that the view of the Opposition was to call that abolition an act of wilful sabotage against the country's economic interests. Wrong again, they were.